International political forum enters fourth decade
Posted: November 27th, 2013
Reprinted by permission from the Sault (Ont.) Star. Click here to see the original story.
PRESENT ARMS – Faculty and student delegates from Lake Superior State University and Algoma University meet for their annual CanAm political conference Nov. 22 on LSSU's campus in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. The two Sault universities — Algoma being from Sault, Ont. — have been co-hosting the conference for 30 consecutive years. When it was first held, Ronald Reagan was president and Pierre Elliott Trudeau was prime minister; all of these students weren't yet born. (LSSU/John Shibley)
A print-resolution photo that runs with the caption above can be found by clicking here.
by MIKE PURVIS
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. - Students from Algoma University and Lake Superior State University continued a 30-year tradition on Friday – sitting down together to hash out the pressing political issues of the day.
This time around it was mass surveillance of electronic communications by the U.S. government's National Security Agency (NSA) and other security agencies and whether the practice has gone too far.
“It was good. Spirited. At the end we took a vote and 21 of the participants thought NSA and other National security agencies had gone too far,” compared to four who thought otherwise, said Gary Johnson, a political science prof at LSSU, who was among those who began the tradition.
The format isn't a debate, but a moderated discussion, after which students vote on which side of the issue they stand.
Johnson started the exchanges in 1984 with Algoma U.'s Terry Ross, who was teaching an introductory course on Canadian politics at LSSU at the time. The initial effort was a success and it has continued with at least 45 exchanges discussing more than 80 issues taking place over the last 30 years.
He said it's a way of teaching students on both sides of the St. Mary's River to look at issues from different angles, while also engaging them.
“You're not well-educated if you don't understand how other people see the world and people who make decisions without understanding that often don't make good decisions,” said Johnson.
More than 1,000 students are estimated to have taken part in the events, which are typically held twice a year – once in the fall at LSSU and again in the spring on Algoma U.'s campus.
Johnson said Canadian and American students seem to be split less often along border lines these days than they have been in the past, depending on what topics come up for discussion.
The North American Free Trade Agreement was one of the more controversial ones Johnson can recall. He said the Algoma U. students, at the time, were concerned about the pending agreement and potential for their country to be “swallowed up” by the U.S.
“There was quite a bit of hostility toward NAFTA in the early years and most American students were defending it,” said Johnson.
“There were times (over the years) when the discussions were quite heated – until we broke pizza together,” laughed Johnson. “But that was good too. I love for my students to see American foreign policy criticized because they tend to take it for granted, and sometimes it's nice for Canadians to hear American foreign policy defended.”
Topics have included free trade, acid rain, physician-assisted suicide, the invasion of Iraq and the implications of 9/11. Last year, the students talked about the merits of the Keystone XL pipeline.
He said one example Ross spoke about Friday was an exchange in which Canadian students had been vehemently taking issue with the U.S. as a source of acid rain in Canada, until an LSSU student pointed out the window to a cloud of black smoke heading for the U.S. from the steel plant in Sault, Ont.
“That's one of the nice things from my perspective, that students from both sides have sometimes been terribly self-righteous about their opinions and their own peers kind of bring them up short a little bit,” said Johnson. “They learn from that, and I think that's one of the things we're facilitating.”